American Eagle is my Therapist
The compelling aspects of retail therapy and their consequences
By Alessandro Mortellaro
Unless you live in the woods somewhere, it’s certain you shop regularly. However, when we impulsively buy things we want, rather than need, we might be unknowingly supporting industries that are harmful to the environment and participating in something that acts as a band-aid, but not as a solution for our everyday worries.
Today’s society holds a high regard for shopping; we may even value it more today than ever before. Does it deserve this praise? Certainly, humanity would be taking a giant step backwards without retail. But shouldn’t we be somewhat sceptical? Can we really be sure that marketers are working with our best interests in mind rather than exploiting our insecurities?
According to research from Mark Manson, advertisements that targeted emotions began in 1928, when the American Tobacco Company hired Edward Bernays. Until Bernays, advertisements sold facts to people, not emotions. However, Mr. Bernays believed that people were irrational and susceptible to advertisements targeting their emotions. He used this technique when selling cigarettes to women. Since they had recently gotten the right to vote, he made this product a symbol of freedom for this group. After the success of this revolutionary ad campaign, it was finally socially acceptable for women to enjoy cigarettes just as much as men. On the other hand, if it weren’t for Mr. Bernays, we wouldn’t have ads that play up our emotions and lead us to make impulsive purchases.
With that being said, what are the consequences to submitting to advertisements that target our insecurities? After reading an article on the subject by Shahram Heshmat Ph.D, and interviewing someone with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, its safe to say that retail therapy is an overlooked impulse behaviour.
On top of that, since the part of the brain responsible for decision making is not fully developed until the age of twenty-five, young people are more likely to participate in this impulsive behaviour. We shop to keep up with trends, or to distract ourselves from negative emotions. For example, rather than doing the assignment we’re stressing about, we go shopping in order to feel a sort of thrill. As innocent as this seems, this behaviour can be self-destructive because the pleasure comes from buying the item, not owning it. However, like any form of pleasure, the “high” will subside. We almost immediately feel guilty about the purchase, and whatever negative emotion that was on our mind comes right back. We can either face reality, or chase that thrill all over again. If we choose the latter, we’re repeatedly tearing off and reapplying that band-aid. So put down those trendy AirPods or those nice pair of jeans! You’re not solving any problems, and frankly, you’re creating financial problems.
"You’re not solving any problems, and frankly, you’re creating financial problems."
To make matters worse, the planet also suffers from retail therapy. According to GreenerIdeal.com, the remorse after an impulse buy almost guarantees the item’s trip to the trash, where it will later end up in a landfill and create methane gas.
Retail therapy also affects your carbon footprint. By supporting a product that was manufactured far away and had to travel long distances to the store, your personal carbon emissions increase. While some might believe that online shopping is greener than shopping in person, they might be underestimating how much they’re contributing to the planet’s climate crisis due to the pollution emitted by rushed deliveries. According to CBC, faster shipping leads to emptier delivery trucks that struggle to reach deadlines, whereas fully packed ones that have efficient delivery routes aren’t as devastating. People also tend to order more than one size and send back the item that doesn’t fit, also increasing carbon emissions.
In order to make a difference, we need to be conscious of the effects of our consumer habits. We need to buy locally, donate used clothes, and buy used items. But most of all, let’s show marketers that we aren’t as irrational as they think. Let’s become conscious consumers for our well-being, for our wallets, and for our planet.